The power of three is something that has been impinging on my consciousness lately. What is it about the number three and the number of things that group themselves in threes? Is three a magic number? In writing terms, perhaps it is. “He was tall, dark and handsome”, has more impact than “He was tall and dark”.
The number three is the smallest odd prime number and the smallest number than can create a pattern.
You can’t plait two strands, but you can plait three.
You need three legs to hold up a piece of furniture (though only two to hold up a person)
You need three elements to measure things – height, width and depth.
I have recently been working on the cover of my new book, Living in the Mourning Light, part of which features three depictions of one image; one opaque, one less opaque, one sharp – and the effect has impact. Two would not have been enough, four would have been too many.
You will have to wait until the book is published in January 2020 to see just what I am talking about!
There is an emphasis in messages that come in threes. Caesar said, “Veni Vidi, Vici” (“I came, I saw, I conquered”) he didn’t just come and see, and he addressed his speech to “Friends, Romans, Countrymen”.
There are three blind mice and three little pigs. Macbeth has three witches, Dumas has three musketeers and even Goldilocks has three bears to contend with. More prosaically, Lionel Ritchie sang of “Once, Twice, Three times a lady”, demonstrating he knew the Power of Love, thrice.
Greek mythology spawned three Furies and three Graces, and the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity draw us towards being balanced in the triad of Mind, Body and Spirit.
“I promise to love, honour and obey”, may have fallen out of favour in a secular sense, but it is a trinitarian promise witnessed by that most important triptych of all, the divine Trinity, or the Three in One. What magical promise is held in that particular trio, the unique and equilateral triangle of Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
The combination of pattern and brevity in triples results in easy to remember content, and that’s why the rule of three can deliver more impact in important oration, advertising (A Mars a day, helps you work, rest, and play) and sales pitches.
On oath, you promise to tell the Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth, thus emphasising the fact of your honesty.
The symbolic Remembrance poppy is made up of three elements – the blood red of the war fields, the green leaf signifying new growth and the black centre reflecting the sadness of mourning.
As a photographer the rule of thirds populates many images. This is a device also familiar to artists which encourages the framing of three separate elements that are strategically placed for impact. With photos, you need to mentally divide your image using two horizontal and two vertical lines and position the important elements of your photo or picture along the lines, or at the points where they meet. On screen it is easy to crop and reposition images to create the most pleasing composition. The modern colour model is RGB (red, green, blue) and these elements can be mixed in proportions that produce a myriad shades.
As a writer, the rule of three is a useful tool. At the very least, I can add a pinch of imagination, a flavour of spice, and a hint of intrigue, in the hope that my words, will encourage people to read them and conclude, it’s useful, it’s helpful and it’s interesting!